Since Beccaria(1986) put forward deterrence as the legitimate purpose of criminal punishment, Bentham(1780)had firstly divided the purpose into general deterrence and special deterrence. General deterrence is to deter potential offenders who have not been punished in legal. Compared with special deterrence that prevents recidivism by direct physical and emotional control to offenders (Braga and Weisburd, 2012), general deterrence can only indirectly impact the rational general public in psychology by legal sanctions. In this sense, the extent to which general public perceives and reacts to the legal sanctions thus change their behavior determines the efficacy of general deterrence. In support of this statement, the paper agrees Geerken and Gove (1975) that general deterrence is a mechanism of information transmission. However, there is an obstacle in information transmission because not all the general public can perceive the information due to constrains in various aspects, in addition to the information of mass media is merely beneficial for potential offenders to change their behaviors. Therefore, legal sanction sometimes is not in positive correlation with frequency and rate of crime and recidivism, which has been evidenced by several researches. Based on this theory, the first part will assess the efficacy of general deterrence combined with 2011 England riots. It reveals that the certainty of punishment rather than severity accounts more for deterring potential offenders (Pratt et al., 2006). Therefore, several findings display that legal sanction like imprison cannot realize general deterrence. Then the second part focuses on explain the reason in the perspective of individual perception towards informative punishment. In spite of the negative efficiency of general deterrence, it argues in the last part that general deterrence can still be a legitimate purpose of punishment to certain extent.
On August 6, 2011, a series of social unrest began in London due to a black Mark Duggan shot dead by the Metropolitan Police officer in Tottenham, north London. Afterwards, the family and community about 200 people protested against the police atrocity. On August 9, 2011, the riots spread to major cities in England, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol. It was the most severe riots since Brixton riots in 1995, and also the riots involving the largest population since London bombing on September 7, 1940 implemented by Nazi Germany during WII. Therefore, the riots attracted attention of the whole England including the Prime Minister Cameron. By 20 August, BBC reported that more than 2,000 people related to the riots had been arrested. Among them, offenders of violent disorder, robbery, burglary and criminal damage were imposed more than five years detention, which could be described as “greatest possible seriousness” (Colley, 2012). Moreover, the precipitate detention directly led to the prison was over-crowed. Although the court insisted the necessity and obligation to do so in order to protect and deter the general public, the legal sanctions imposed to the offenders were criticized in various aspects. On the one hand, the government represented by Prime Minister Cameron highlighted that the riots was not a social issue but a crime issue. Under the context, it seemed to be fair to impose detention to offenders who committed violent disorder, robbery, burglary and criminal damage. However, the riots was associated closely with the complex social and economic causes such as racial tensions, unemployment, juvenile violent, etc., and there were a number of juvenile offences. In that case, the indiscriminate and sever punishment violated the human rights.